Dole offers to testify at Senate hearings

WASHINGTON - Bob Dole offered Thursday to testify at Senate campaign fund-raising hearings to respond to "suggestions of impropriety" during his 1996 presidential bid and invited President Clinton to do the same.

In a letter to the panel's chairman, Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., Dole said "there have been statements questioning my activities as a candidate and some that cast doubt on my integrity."

Senate Democrats have charged that the Republican National Committee improperly used "soft money" to air ads that improperly promoted Dole's candidacy, including a commercial spot that was a biography of the former Senate majority leader. By law, such ads are not supposed to advocate a candidate's election.

Similar charges have been leveled by Republicans at Clinton's campaign and the Democratic Party.

Dole said "it would be my hope that this offer will encourage President Clinton to express his willingness to do the same."

Thompson was preparing an invitation for Clinton to testify, said Paul Clark, spokesman for the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

The White House said it would have no comment.

But Jim Jordan, a spokesman for Senate Democrats on the panel, said, "I certainly can't imagine the president would see fit to dignify these proceedings with his presence."

"I presume that by cooking up this little stunt, committee Republicans are simply acknowledging that their investigation into more serious matters has failed," Jordan said. "Since no improprieties have been attributed to Senator Dole, it is hard to see how his appearance before the committee would be relevant - although it might be enjoyable."

This week, Senate Democrats produced documents turned over by Dole's campaign showing that GOP deputy finance director Jo-Anne Coe forwarded checks from big donors to special interest groups allied with Republican causes, such as the National Right to Life Committee and Americans for Tax Reform.

Federal law prohibits coordination between a political party and interest groups.

"While I do not believe that I personally participated in any questionable activity or personally violated any existing law, I am prepared to voluntarily come before your committee and submit to questions, under oath, that any member of your committee may have," Dole said in the letter to Thompson.

Dole's letter said "there have been countless charges and countercharges, innuendo, and suggestions of impropriety" about the financing of the 1996 presidential campaign. Emphasizing that he was not "passing judgment on anyone," Dole said his testimony "could help resolve any current or future areas of inquiry."

Clark said Dole's letter was hand-delivered to Thompson in the Senate's Republican cloakroom.

"I am very pleased that Senator Dole has made this voluntary offer to come before our committee to respond to questions on his campaign," Thompson said in a statement. "I join him in encouraging President Clinton to testify as well," Thompson said.

The documents turned over by Dole's campaign show that then-GOP Chairman Haley Barbour and Coe steered large Republican donations to tax-exempt interest groups that do not have to disclose the source of their money.

The documents included an Oct. 17, 1996, memo by Coe to Barbour stating that she had forwarded $100,000 to the National Right to Life Committee and $100,000 to Americans For Tax Reform. Both donations came from businessman Carl Lindner, according to the memo.

Coe said she also expected $280,000 in additional donations to be given to the American Defense Institute.

Senate Democrats are investigating what they charge was improper coordination between tax-exempt interest groups and the RNC.

Thompson, meanwhile, said the committee would question Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to explain why his agency rejected an Indian gambling casino proposal opposed by a Democratic fund-raiser.

Thompson said the Senate panel would hear testimony about the Interior Department's 1995 rejection of the casino proposed by three Wisconsin bands of Chippewa Indians, who have charged that the Clinton administration bowed to improper political pressure.

Other tribes, including one that hired a well-connected Democratic lobbyist and fund-raiser to fight the casino plan, donated more than $270,000 to the Democratic National Committee after it was rejected.

Thompson complained that the White House had not provided all documents about its contacts with the Interior Department until this week.

The latest memos, obtained by The Associated Press, show that aides to Harold Ickes, then deputy chief of staff, discussed the issue with a top Babbitt staffer despite warnings that White House involvement would be "political poison," in the words of one presidential aide.

The White House says the were to determine the status of the pending decision, not to influence its outcome.

Babbitt is likely to be questioned about why he told the lobbyist for the losing tribes that Ickes was pressing him to make a decision on the casino issue.

Babbitt acknowledged making the statement but says he invoked Ickes' name simply to get the lawyer - an old friend from Arizona - out of his office. Last year, Babbitt had disputed the lawyer's account, denying he had spoken to Ickes about the issue.

By The Associated Press

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